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Breast is best message criticised

Campaigners have called on the Department of Health to change its breastfeeding campaign after research claimed its was failing to convince new mothers.

The Breastfeeding Network said the current "breast is best" message served only to reinforce the idea that breastfeeding is the preferred - rather than the normal - way to feed babies.

Lesley Backhouse, the organisation's chair, said: "We've got to knock breastfeeding off this pedestal.

"It seems to play straight into the formula manufacturer's hands by encouraging the view that formula is the normal way to feed a baby - whereas nothing could be further from the truth."

"What we should be saying - and are intent on getting across - is that formula feeding is an avoidable health risk to babies."

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "Breastfeeding is good for babies, good for mothers and incredibly convenient.

"It's crucial that mothers get the support they need to make breastfeeding a success for them and their baby."

Copyright © Press Association 2010

Breastfeeding Network

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"In reply to Geoffrey Okeke, Enfield, I have to ask what right a man has to say breast feeding is 'crucial', and that the campaign should be even 'more vigorous and proactive?' - When men can do the job, then let them criticise those of us women who can't" - Laura, Leeds

"I had my first baby in February this year and really wanted to breast feed. I had to be in tears with bleeding nipples before I saw a breastfeeding support lady in hospital and this was not followed up at home. When home I looked into more help as I was still struggling and I was totally breastfeeding except for one bottle of formula at the 10 o'clock feed. Instead of the professional focusing on the fact I was breastfeeding almost constantly, I was made to feel guilty about this one bottle of formula instead. The truth is without this I would have had no relief from the soreness or been able to get any sleep. I continued to breastfeed for 5 months but I really think this was due to my determination to breastfeed, had I not been so keen to do it I would have definitely given up after a few weeks, there just isn't the support. It's a shame as with help eventually, and time it was actually really easy, I'm really glad I persevered" - S Deprez, Essex 

"I have four children and breastfed all of them and the last one till she was 2. My first baby was born whilst we were living in the Netherlands. Although there you are discharged as soon as possible from hospital if you even attend hospital for the birth, they have a very supportive follow-up practice. A lady called a "Krammzorg" visits you at home for 7 days following the birth of your baby, she is with you from 8am till 6pm. She sets you up at home and supervises your breast feeding technique whilst sitting or when lying in bed. The Krammzorg also helps set up the nursery for you and organises how you should bath the baby and any other related issues. Such a supportive role was so useful to me having my first baby. My second baby was born back here in London and if it was my first experience at breast feeding I am not sure I would have managed it as the support was not there. A lot of my friends didn't breast feed and I felt sorry for them missing out on the most amazing experience" - Shani Gubbay, London

"As a mother of five I was able to breast feed all my children, though with my second son only 'managed' for 6 weeks, when I then introduced formula milk. Support, and that definitely involves midwife time, for new mothers is crucial in those first few days after birth if breast feeding is to be encouraged and promoted. But I urge the 'professionals' not to create guilt for those women who are unable to breast feed their newly born. Retired nurse practitioner and now a grandmother" - Teresa McNally, Clackmannanshire

"In the same way that penalising car users before improving the rail infrastructure, and bringing rail fare prices down, penalising mothers who use formula feeds because they have had insufficient support with breast-feeding seems to me to be grossly unfair and a case of putting the cart before the horse. As a Health Visitor, I have many times conducted a New Birth visit on the 10th or 11th day to find mum, initially intending to breast feed, has given up through lack of support - the community midwives rushed off their feet and unable to put intensive work in that might be required. Young mothers are being discharged so quickly after birth - some as early as 6 hours post-delivery; this gives no time at all to establish breast feeding especially if the wards are busy. Breast feeding IS normal, it IS natural and it IS best, but it often isn't easy, and we should not be villifying formula feeding in this way if we are unable to establish breast feeding from the start. For many mothers breast feeding is an unattainable aspiration and they don't need us to make them feel any more guilty than they do already. More midwives and longer times in maternity units is what is needed" - Lynne Gill, Kings Lynn

"I am a student health visitor. The problems I am encountering are mainly poor support for mother at the most crucial time; the first few days after birth. By the time we visit, the mothers have opted for the bottle. One mother was very disappointed that despite NHS carrying on with breast is best, there is no support when mothers ask for help" - Margaret Ndiritu, Birmingham

"Breast feeding enhances maternal bonding that is crucial for mother and child. This is a natural phenomenon and new mothers should be encouraged to do and informed of the consequences of adopting alternatives like formula. This campaign should be a lot more vigorous and pro active" - Geoffrey Okeke, Enfield

"Absolutely agree that breast feeding is the best but finding it increasingly frustrating that mums are not encouraged more on the postnatal wards. As an ex-midwife I know how rushed we all are but surely this is one area of post natal care that should be encouraged" - Denise Mills, North Wales

"I am not sure that stating 'formula feeding is an avoidable health risk to babies' is the ideal way to get the message across. I am totally in favour of and actively encourage breast feeding, but there a few women out there who, despite all encouragement and reassurance, fail to start or cannot establish breastfeeding whether from physiological or even emotional reasons, so to then add the burden of being told that because of this 'failure' on their part they are putting their baby at risk could result in putting the mother's welfare at risk as many of them already feel like failures. Sadly, I do not know how this should be tackled and agree wholeheartedly that mothers do indeed get the support needed to make breastfeeding a success for them and their baby, but an holistic assessment of the mum's needs and fears should also be taken into account" - Name and address supplied

"Both me and my wife believe that breast feeding is the best thing for our son, however it is not easy or even convenient at times. As a health care professional I have seen the stigma that is put on mothers who don't breast feed, often making them feel inadequate or failures as mothers. The catch phrase 'breast is best' fills me with dread at the way mothers are made feel if they don't adhere to the natural way. Even in this article this is made very apparent, when you say 'What we should be saying - and are intent on getting across - is that formula feeding is an avoidable health risk to babies.' So what happens to the mother who cannot breast feed how do they feel with this statement what type of message are you getting across (bullying comes to mind). The reason I say all this is that my wife and I are new parents and as I said before we do believe in breast feeding but we have felt the pressures been put on us to maintain the purity of breast feeding even feeling ashamed that we have used some formula as a top up at times. The best way to stop most mothers from breast feeding is to carry on the way you are going. Why not try a softly softly approach using education with lots of support and 'understanding' and maybe mums will do the natural thing and breast feed" - Todd Fawcett, Birmingham

"I believe that we need to get the information over to mothers so that they realise why it is the best way forward, ie, that a baby if breast fed will have a natural weight that will dip around 6 months and that to be told that the baby may need to be topped up with formula is telling the mother that her fear that she is starving her baby is true. We also need to get over the fact that there are thriving scales and that these should be used by all health visitors and mothers so that they can see that it is not the baby's weight we are looking at but the fact that they are thriving. I believe most mothers feel bullied into breastfeeding and then are not given facts to continue but just badgered into it so that they become negative about the benefits and feel that they have failed no matter how long they breast feed for. Do we not also work, with a lot of mothers returning to work - do we encourage nurseries to take the baby to the mothers or vice versa so that breast feeding can happen in the day. I think there are vital pieces of information not given to mothers and often that is because health visitors are not aware of them - such as the thriving scales and the fact that a baby should not be overweight/'a fat baby' is not always a great sign but slim around 6 months and that formula may be a cause for obesity issues" - David Keegan, University of Huddersfield

"As a mother of twins who tried hard to maintain breast feeding, I did not get any encouragement and was given conflicting advice from care staff. I later learnt that bottle feeding one baby and breast feeding the other would have been for me the best way to cope. Alternating breast and bottle feeds. I only wish I knew this sooner rather than later" - Christina Milligan, Scotland

"'Formula feeding is an avoidable health risk to babies.' WHAT??!! This is absolutely shocking - as a mother of 3, who through no fault of my own, was not physically capable of breastfeeding, though I was absolutely desperate to do 'the right thing' for my babies (and yes, I had all the breastfeeding counsellors, midwife, H/V help, etc - even a paediatrician), I feel appalled that this new message gives women like me the message that 'you can't breastfeed, so you're harming your child'... what DID harm ALL my children, was my total desperation in trying to breastfeed when there was virtually no milk there, to the point where each one had to be admitted to hospital through sheer starvation and dehydration... for Gods sake, people KNOW the message about breast milk, but lets not miss the fact that when breastfeeding doesn't work, formula is a perfectly reasonable option, and without it, all my 3 would have died of starvation" - Name and address supplied